Ban on Funding Harmful Embryo Research

 

Background: In 1996–and each year since–Congress has included a provision in the Labor/HHS Appropriations Bill that prohibits the use of federal funds for research in which human embryos are harmed or destroyed. See comments below on FY 2001 Labor/HHS Appropriations Bill.

Adult stem cells represent an alternative that is both ethical and very promising. Information on medical advances in this area can be found at the web site maintained by Do No Harm: The Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics: www.stemcellresearch.org.

Regulations: In a January 1999 memo, the General Counsel for the Department of Health and Human Services claimed that the current law does not apply to research using stem cells derived from human embryos, even though harvesting these cells directly kills the embryos. This legal opinion distorts the plain meaning and intent of the law. Nevertheless, on December 1, 1999, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) used this opinion to justify issuing draft guidelines for funding research “Involving Human Pluripotent Stem Cells.” The time for public comments was closed on February 22, 2000. Thousands of pro-life letters protesting the draft guidelines were sent to NIH. It was reported that the vast majority of the comments received at NIH were in opposition to the guidelines. Nevertheless, on August 25, 2000, NIH officially published its final guidelines (Federal Register, Vol. 65, No. 166, 8/25/2000, 51976-81), available in plain text format at: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=2000_register&docid=fr25au00-136. It is reported that the process of approving the funding of specific grants will stretch into 2001, when the next Administration will be in office.

Senate: In late 1999 and at various times in 2000, the Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), held hearings on embryonic stem cell research. On January 31, 2000, the Senator introduced the Stem Cell Research Act (S. 2015), a measure allowing direct federal funding for the destruction of human embryos to obtain their stem cells. On September 28, 2000, Majority Leader  Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), following up on a promise made to Sen. Specter in late 1999, brought up S. 2015 for consideration on the Senate floor. However, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) objected and the bill was set aside. Sen. Lott promised Sen. Specter that he would try to bring up the bill in 2001 in a timely fashion.    

End-of-Year Summary: The law banning the use of federal funds for research “in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed” was again enacted into law. See FY 2001 Labor/HHS Appropriations Bill below. However, the plain meaning of the law notwithstanding, the Administration, relying on legal fictions of its own creation, issued guidelines for funding stem cell research that involves the destruction of young human embryos. Efforts in Congress to overturn the existing funding ban and explicitly justify the guidelines were not successful. The resolution of this issue is thrown into the next Congress and Administration.